The innuendos from online misogynists aimed at women bring to surface a sinister side of the net ecosystem. TBS attempts to scratch the surface to reveal what lies underneath
A few days ago BBC published a report on how poverty is forcing women to go to Saudi Arabia as domestic workers, despite the fact that were newspaper reports of horrific tortures of those who chose to migrate to the Gulf country at the hands of their employers. When the report was posted on BBC's Facebook page, a great number of men started condemning the women workers for deciding to go to Saudi Arabia.
One of them whose reproach took the form of a diatribe said that women wanted to go there to have sex with Saudi men.
When The Business Standard approached the commenter he said, "Our country has plenty of garment factories. If girls want to go to Saudi instead of working here, it indicates that they want 'something' from Saudi men."
This only reflects a typical position by men, those who are opposed to women's engagement in work. The comment certainly makes appear a fault line in the public sphere where male voices often clamour against women's desire to go a certain length to earn a living.
The Business Standard came across a university student Mohona (alias) who had been a victim of patriarchal dominance both in real and the virtual world.
Mohona was groped by an unknown man inside an auto-rickshaw on her way to university. She was traumatised by the nature of harassment.
When she wrote about that experience on Facebook, a lot of other men began suggesting measures for women to avoid such situation but no words were uttered against the sexual predator. Later, when people reported the particular post that Facebook decided to take it down.
According to Mohona, 'The problem is not with the platform; the problem is in our perception. As these platforms have exposed the way many of us think, it is making women like us scared.'
She added that it was not just men, there were also women who came up with similar critical diatribe, denouncing the working women.
Unlocking the minds of online misogynists
The Business Standard team approached around 50 people who have been posting degrading comments on women on different pages, news portals, groups and profiles.
A probe into their posts revealed, these people get offended by everything. It can be with a woman who started riding a bike to run her family (Uber driver Shehnaj), a girl who writes food review, and an animal lover who posts pictures with animals. It can be with a celebrity posting harmless family picture or a group of people walking on highway with girls among them.
Some of them were approached with the query why they do it and what prompts them to go for such nasty words. The idea was to find the reason behind the general rage against women that continues to disrupt social harmony.
When these men were approached they tried to justify their misconduct in the name of culture and religion.
The common answers the team received from them by approaching around 50 people were tellingly irreverent. Their explanations were as follows – 'to have fun', 'because I felt like it', 'I was in a savage mood', 'Why do you care?', 'Why shouldn't I?'
While most of them tried to justify their act, some did not respond, some said they only acted on impulse and would be careful next time. An interesting amount of offenders blocked the accounts through which The Business Standard tried to make them talk about their offensive habit.
While none of them could focus on the purpose and goal, a good number of them explained how women's activities these days are going against religion, culture and tradition.
The muddle that we are in can also be understood through another incident. When BBC asked a woman why they want to go to Saudi Arabia even after being informed of the abuse at the hands of Saudi employers, one woman said it did not make much difference to them as they get tortured by their husbands at home as well.
A middle-aged person took serious offense over this statement. He regarded this comparison to be immoral, that too from religious and cultural point of view. Since, according to him, being tortured by her own husband and a stranger are two different issues.
When they were asked if name-calling and using derogatory words against women was a part of culture, most of them either became silent or fell short of words.
In the name of culture, tradition and religion
Since most of these men considered everything women does as incompatible to religion, culture and tradition, The Business Standard resorted to anthropologist and writer Rahnuma Ahmed to come to terms with culture, tradition and religion and how women are being portrayed in relation to these concepts.
Rahnuma Ahmed pointed out that culture is never anything fixed or homogeneous. She says that dealing with the concept of culture can be tricky as one must examine whether the notion of 'culture' that is being advocated is only used as a tool of domination to suppress those who are marginalised, voiceless or less privileged.
This is because culture should always be inclusive, cognisant of social inequalities and the struggles that are often fought for peace and justice.
On the psychology of online misogynists who drag culture and religion into all this to justify their offensive acts, she simply says, "Blaming it on 'culture' and 'religion' is plain nonsense."
"I think online misogyny is, in complicated and intersecting ways, connected with sexual power and perceiving that as a male prerogative," she explained.
Rahnuma Ahmed also points out that online interactions are voyeuristic as one can hide behind an ID and peep and consume and get steamed-up, and then ejaculate male venom and spite.
Also, she finds it interesting how misogyny, or all other systems of domination is strengthened by the internet: a space structured in such a way where one can shoot off one's mouth, unhindered by any sense of decency.
Whereas, decency is something prescribed by the very religion and culture that these men claim to represent.
Explaining religious stand she said, "From my knowledge of Islam, I'm certain that the Prophet Muhammad (PBH) would be shocked at how Bengali Muslim men pass off their abhorrent behaviour on religion/Islam."
From another point of view she suggested that these volleys can be seen as a reaction against women's increasing presence, both offline and online that weakens traditional patriarchal control mechanisms.
There are many ways to explain the absurdity of such remarks that bear the tell-tale signs of our male population trying to get back at their female counterparts, but the fact remains that the deeply disturbing impacts of misogynists' actions are spilling over to the real social spaces. In both virtual and actual spaces the problem needs to be addressed.